A business principle worth repeating: positively good advertising

business principle: positively good advertisingWhat’s the most memorable business principle you’ve learnt from a book? There’s a ton of them out there, but one from Ogilvy on Advertising always sticks in my mind. It’s a principle I repeat to a lot of people, because it says so much, not just about good advertising, or good copywriting, but about good business in general. That concept is Joel Raphaelson‘s theory behind ‘the positively good’. 

The positively good approach to advertising is one that a consumer thinks is trustworthy. The product or service does not necessarily make claims of being better than another product, it just has to be clear to the consumer that it will do what you are paying for. The theory, in its entirety, is quoted from Raphaelson in Ogilvy’s book:

‘The positively good’ advertising principle

In the past, just about every advertiser has assumed that in order to sell his goods he has to convince consumers that his product is superior to his competitor’s.

This may not be necessary. It may be sufficient to convince customers that your product is positively goodIf the consumer feels certain that your product is good and feels uncertain about your competitor’s, he will buy yours.

If you and your competitors all make excellent products, don’t try to imply that your product is better. Just say what’s good about your product – and do a clearer, more honest, more informative job of saying it.

If this theory is right, sales will swing to the marketer who does the best job of creating confidence that his product is positively good.

The principle, essentially, is that conducting business in a clear, honest and informative way, and not a competitive way, will encourage sales because people trust you. Other companies may even have better products, but if they don’t present a positive image, consumers will not buy from them.

This is especially relevant to me as a writer because that difference between a positive image and an untrustworthy one often rests on the quality of the business’s copy. Creating that ‘positively good’ impression basically encompasses the theory behind why what I do is important.

It is also a principle worth remembering because it reminds us that your business does not have to be unique, or even the best, to succeed. It just has to provide a positive service. It’s okay not to be the best, as long as you do a good job. Not everyone will notice the difference between the best and a supposedly lesser service or product, but they will definitely notice the difference between what products and services appear to be able to do.

In Ogilvy on Advertising, Ogilvy goes on to add that it’s also an approach that doesn’t insult the consumer. It means doing the best you can, nothing more, nothing less. You don’t have to make grand claims, you don’t have to outsmart or outperform the competitors, you merely have to show that you are worthy of business.

For me, for instance, this can be demonstrated when writing the copy for a business blog or company website.  The copy does not have to be more original, more flamboyant or more striking than what the competitors are writing – it just has to be accurate, engaging and clear. Whether or not the competitors’ writing is of the same quality is up to them, but if my copy is of a high quality then the consumer won’t necessarily have a reason to read anyone else’s. If it were of a low quality, it would give them a reason to shop around.


For a few more thoughts on similar principles, consider reading my post about creative copywriting, and be sure to read Raphaelson’s book Writing that Works.

5 responses to “A business principle worth repeating: positively good advertising

  1. Chris Williams

    Great stuff, Phil.

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